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The idea behind Torture Wheel has always been to create a thick wall of sound, or a continuous heavy stream of sound... suffocating and impenetrable atmospheres.

Interview with Torture Wheel.

Under the foreboding moniker "Torture Wheel", a man with a strong musical vision recently joined the ever-growing funeral art scene. But what distinguishes Torture Wheel from other bands in this genre? Foremost, it is a strong emphasis on atmosphere. The tracks are so tight and trance-inducing that they actually develop a physical presence. They seem to leap into your room and linger long after the last note faded into the dark. But who pulls the strings behind the scenery? What does it take to create such unique soundscapes? And what would happen to the doom scene if the creator of Torture Wheel had a zillion dollars? Enter - E.M. Hearst.


First off, please tell us about your personal musical path that led to the spawning of TW. Since when do you create music, what are other projects you are involved in - and what is your favourite music instrument?


"I first started recording music in 1993 under the name Dementia 13. It was just a solo experimental noise project, very influenced by Throbbing Gristle style noise / Industrial music. My first real band (Kindergarten) started in 1995, founded by myself and S. Rottinghouse. We played a very eclectic style of Industrial music... everything from raw garage-band style Industrial with real instruments to a much more synthesized electronic Industrial with no real instruments at all to horror influenced Dark Ambient soundscapes... in  our five years of existence, we went through about 20 different band members (besides myself and S.) but we only managed to record two demo tapes. This band totally fell apart in 1999... I couldn't even listen to music for a year or so after that, I totally turned away from anything with a beat, melody or any resemblance of structure... proper music just disgusted me... that led me to form my anti-music harsh-noise project 'Margaret Hearst' in 2000. Sometime in the year 2001, I discovered 'Funeral Doom' and it's honestly the only reason I like music at all today... it restored a little of the faith I had lost in music...


I reunited with S. Rottinghouse in 2001 to form Wraith of the Ropes. In the very beginning, we were playing 'Horror Industrial' music, but we soon began to integrate it with heavy Doom Metal elements... the songs all slowed down, heavied up, and now it's lost somewhere in the limbo between Doom Metal and horror-Industrial. No releases yet, but we've written enough material for two-to-three full-length albums. I started Torture Wheel as a solo project in early 2003 to dedicate myself to creating 'Funeral Art' without the electronic influences of Wraith of the Ropes... and I just wanted to add my own vision of Funeral Doom to the ever-expanding genre. There have been a few other smaller projects over the years, but that's basically my personal musical path up until now...


Other projects I'm currently involved in:


Nepenthean is a Funeral Doom Death project, sort of in the vein of Hierophant and Catacombs, with influences from Shape of Despair and Esoteric. Ron Slater is the mastermind behind this band, he's writing everything himself... I'm just the vocalist. Members of Morgion will also be involved with the recording of our first release.


The sad Sun is a project I'm doing with Stijn Van Cauter (UDOM/The Ethereal etc...), it will be extremely ugly and monotonous Funeral Art... very slow, very torturous and nihilistic anti-music...  long songs with both tortured screams and deep growls. It should be a very extreme collaboration. We'll probably begin recording our first album sometime early next year.


As for my favourite instrument, I guess I'd say drums... even though I don't play them in any of my current bands (and I'm probably quite rusty by now) but I did play drums for years and years... it's infinitely more enjoyable to me than playing guitar or whatever. I picked up the guitar, bass and keys basically out of necessity. Not that I absolutely hate playing guitar or  anything, it's just not as natural an instrument to me. I love working with drum machines and other electronic gadgets as well... if music programming can be considered an 'instrument', then that would be my favourite instrument."

What is Torture Wheel's priority among your other projects?


"I'd say it's in a firm second place right now. Wraith of the Ropes will be my first priority for as long as it exists. Torture Wheel is a much more personal project to me, but I enjoy more writing songs within a band situation and bouncing ideas back and forth with my Wraith band mates. It's just a more interesting process to me."

TW´s debut is a split with Uncertainty Principle released by NULLL Records. How did it come to this release?


"S.P. White (the mastermind behind Uncertainty Principle) asked me earlier this year if I would be interested in doing a split with him, and I definitely was. I'd been a big fan of U.P. (and S.P.'s other project Edge of Darkness) for a long time... I even did a remix of one of his Edge of Darkness tracks for a remix album he's putting together, and I guess that's where he came up with the idea for us to do a split together.


For a few months nothing happened with this split, but then Stijn Van Cauter formed his NULLL Records, and it turned out that he was interested in signing both Torture Wheel and Uncertainty Principle to his label. We saw that as the perfect opportunity to get the split album together for one of the very first NULLL releases... everyone agreed that it was a good idea and everything just fell into place quite easily from there."

While (i.e. Uncertainty Principle) contrasts harsh drones with tiny melodies, TW weaves a thick, homogeneous soundscape. Don't you like contrasts in music?


"The idea behind Torture Wheel has always been to create a thick wall of sound, or a continuous heavy stream of sound... suffocating and impenetrable atmospheres. It's all about 'the trance' for me, and any sound that could break up 'the trance', I consider undesirable. All these layers of droning sound in unison created that trance I was looking for.


I certainly don't think my music lacks dynamics though, there are many musical shifts and tempo changes, etc... but the project is 100% about creating a dark nightmarish atmosphere."

Now please reveal your songwriting secrets!


"I always start with the rhythm (and the programming of all drums) first, and I basically have the entire song's flow and structure before I write a note of music. I approach it from a rhythmic point of view first, and I use a bit of numerology and mathematics to plot out the course of my songs. I will then build the rest of the song around the rhythm, writing the main riffs, bass lines and keyboard melody and harmony lines... all based around the rhythmic principles of the foundation. That might seem a little strange, especially since there are long sections in my songs without any drums or perceptible rhythm, but underneath the surface there is a constant and very strict, set-in-stone rhythm and flow. The last step is always lyrics / vocals, I'd say they're the least important aspect of the music, but they do add another very important dimension to the overall 'wall of noise'. There's really no great secret beyond that... besides maybe the fact that I use minor and diminished chords almost exclusively."

TW´s music has been described as "Horror Doom". What's your opinion on that? Was it your intention to create dreadful, frightening music? Do you actually see the "horror" in your tracks? Or is this simply your vision of how Doom should sound?


"More than horror, I feel a sense of deep sadness in my songs... an extreme demonic depression. But I do honestly like the term "Horror Doom", as I've always been heavily inspired by Horror films and their soundtracks. The music of composers like Krzysztof Penderecki and Bela Bartok that has been used in film, as well as film scores by Goblin, Fabio Frizzi and John Carpenter (among many others) is very influential to all of the music I write. I don't intentionally try to write 'Horror Doom' though, I guess it's just a natural artifact of my writing style.."

What was your most "horrifying" experience?


"As a kid, I remember being woken up at night by my mother's screaming... she would have bizarre hallucinations, people coming through her walls, demons 'coming to get her' and so forth... and every once in a while, I'd hear this blood curdling scream come through the walls. It would always really scare me, and it was insanely traumatic, being so young. It's also very bizarre to have your own mother look at you like she has no idea who you are... and smetimes call you by a strange name you've never heard... and sometimes hold entire conversations with people who weren't there. There were very few moments of lucidity with her, it's a very sad thing... and there were some very "horrifying" moments, especially when I was very young... but most of these moments I wouldn't discuss here."

What kind of guy records such warped, utterly dark music? Judging from the music, you sleep in a coffin and are - at least - manic depressive.


"No coffin, but manic depressive may be accurate, though I haven't been diagnosed as such. In younger days, there was tremendous depression, but I'm rarely affected any more... I guess I've grown numb to such feelings. Paranoid schizophrenic is probably the better description for me... fear and anxiety basically controls my life. There are moments of extreme paranoia, I can barely leave my house most days... there's always a fear of 'something'. I don't like being around other people most of the time, I live a very solitary life. I have no idea if this introversion comes through in the music, but I guess it somehow influences the music I make...."

When you write, or rather, when you record the tracks for TW, is it like getting rid of your demons, channeling your dark side into music or are you rather excited? In short, is creating "horror doom" a purifying experience for you or is it rather a joyful experience?


"Well, it's at least a way of escaping myself for awhile... I definitely can lose myself in the music. I wouldn't say it's a very joyful experience though, most recording sessions end in total frustration and miserable failure... and at the end of the day, I probably feel worse than when I started. I do very much enjoy writing the songs, but the recording process is hell for me most of the time. When I do finish a song, I very rarely listen to it anymore... it just reminds me of the frustration I went through to record the song. I suppose the actual writing process is purifying though, I definitely pour every bit of negative energy and emotion I have into the songs..."

What served as inspiration for the three tracks on the split?


"'Broken by the Wheel' was the very first song I ever wrote for Torture Wheel. Musically, it was somewhat inspired by the band Beyond Black Void, though it ended up sounding nothing like that band... actually B.B.V. was the single biggest inspiration for me in creating Torture Wheel in the first place. Thematically, the song is inspired by an old writing from the seventeenth century, an actual account of "breaking with the wheel"... it read something like: "The victim was transformed into a sort of huge screaming puppet writhing in rivulets of blood, a puppet with four tentacles, like a sea monster, of raw, slimy and shapeless flesh mixed up with splinters of smashed bones. Then, the pulverized limbs were braided into the pokes of the wheel...". This just struck me as the most horrifying torture possible, and apparently it was a very slow death... and that's what the song is about, the moments after the act of "breaking" and what could possibly be going through the mind of the tortured man as he waits to die... excruciating pain... then growing numb to the pain...  praying for death... acceptance... and then finally fading away (as the song fades out).


'Shadow Sect' is basically just an impression of an 'after-life'. The confusion of death, a bizarre new dimension, becoming a shadow... the horror of realizing there is no peace after death... sorrow and pain only intensify. It's a very depressing thought to me... consciousness after death. It's just a very loose concept... random images of some bizarre after-life, maybe an idea of what a 'Hell' would be. What this song was inspired by, I have no idea...


'Mary' is the only song that actually has a personal meaning to me, though I don't want to say what it's about. I'll just say, death is again a central theme here... it's definitely not a saccharine love song for someone named Mary or anything like that..."

Only on my third spin through your part of the TW/UP split, I realized you actually used your voice as well! So please tell me, what is it that you mumble there? Coherent sentences, lyrics even? Or do you consider your voice just as another instrument?


"There are only a few lyrics in each song, it's mostly free-style ramblings, rantings and experimentation with different effects. I definitely consider my voice as 'just' another instrument in the overall wall of sound that is Torture Wheel. Lyrics aren't important to Torture Wheel at all, but the vocals are... I think they're integral to the atmosphere I'm trying to create. I don't think these songs would work at all with a more upfront vocal style, I'm going for a more otherworldly, abstract feeling."

How important are samples and effects for TW?


"I used very few samples. Actually, there's only one: the sound of a turning wheel at the end of 'Broken by the Wheel'... all the other weirdness in the songs is my voice. So, samples aren't really important at all... but they may become more prevalent in future recordings. Effects are extremely important though... especially on the vocals. Just about everything is drenched in reverb and delay... nothing is left 'dry' on my recordings."

Is TW meant to convey a message? If so, what is it?


"No, it's purely about atmosphere and feeling. It doesn't need to make any literal sense, I think the emotions in my music are understood... no empty words can communicate how I really feel, the music talks for me... and the music is a direct reflection of my "soul", whatever that is. I definitely have no message to put across to anyone, I'm just putting my emotions into sound..."

If you had the chance to write - retrospectively - the soundtrack for a movie, which one would you choose?


"That's a very hard question... probably a soundtrack for an old silent Horror film. Perhaps 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari'... that movie had such a bizarre and ethereal atmosphere, it'd be insane to create an Ambient-Funeral soundtrack to go along with it, and I think I'd enjoy that very much. 'Nosferatu' would be great too. Horror films are just about the only kind of movies I watch... and with most of them, the soundtracks are an integral part of the overall film... so I couldn't possibly tamper with any part of them, that's why I'd have to choose a silent film."

What is your favourite doom band/project at the moment?


"I'm currently obsessed with Wormphlegm, "In an Excruciating Way..." is simply amazing, truly torturous music. Moss' "Tape of Doom" is getting a lot of play lately... very harsh, very heavy... they have one of the ugliest (in a good way) guitar tones imaginable. I'm also very excited about the new Zaraza album, the mp3's I've heard from it are excellent, particularly the track "Infliction" which just blows my mind... it's definitely my favourite individual song in the world right now, and they're definitely one of my favourite bands at the moment. I'm also frothing at the mouth in anticipation of the new 'The Ethereal'  album, as well as the new full-length from 'Aarni'. The debut from my label mates 'Solicide' is also getting a lot of listens. I'm sure there are many more I'm forgetting..."

...and non-doom band/project?


"I honestly don't listen to much non-Doom anymore, at least current music. There are a few Dark Ambient projects that I really like, I love 'Mortaur' in particular... but besides that, I tend to stick with the music I grew up on... from Einstürzende Neubauten to Slayer, Judas Priest to Curtis Mayfield, Skinny Puppy to Pink Floyd, Cocteau Twins to Sly & the Family Stone, (early)Genesis to Stereolab, The Cure to Darkthrone, Throbbing Gristle to The Doors... that may give you a slight idea of my non-Doom listening habits."

One urgent question remains (yes I admit, I'm a fanboy): When will you unleash the first TW full length upon the world?


"It should be next year, hopefully within the first few months. I have quite a bit of material written, but organizing and structuring it all is a big task. It will most likely come after the debut album from Wraith of the Ropes... at least that's the plan. There should be some interesting new twists in the TW sound, including some Industrial elements, but the core will remain basically the same.


In the meantime, Torture Wheel will be appearing on two new compilations: A new track called 'Blood Mirror' will appear on NULLL Records' "From the NULLL Void" compilation... it will be released within a month or so [release date was set on 12/12/03 -Oli]. I will also have another brand new song on a compilation by the new label 'Buried & Forgotten Productions'. It will be a cassette-only release entitled "Skeletal Remains". That is set to be released in January."

I would like to ask you to please complete the following sentences:


If I had a zillion dollars, I.... "would move out of the fucking ghetto to some secluded area, the wilderness of Montana sounds good to me. Then I'd buy truck-loads of new musical instruments and studio equipment... fill entire rooms with synthesizers, drum kits, drum machines, amps etc... And then I'd buy brand new equipment for every band that I respect in the underground, and invite them all to record in my uber-studio in the wilderness... I'd even pay for their plane tickets to Montana. Then I'd sink a ton of money into a new record label and try to sign every band I like, and set up huge tours and Doom festivals all across the globe. I guess a zillion dollars could go a long way..."

The last 12 hours before earth inevitably explodes, I would... "listen to as much music as I possibly could... drink whiskey and gin until I fall into an alcoholic coma... hopefully not wake up again before the end comes."

If Sony Music would like to sign TW, I tell them... "no thanks, I already have a deal."

Alright dude, the horror is over - for the time being... Thanks a lot! Any last words?


Thank you for the interview, I hope I didn't prattle on too much. You can visit http://listen.to/wotr for info on all of my current projects... and visit http://nulll.darkwood.com if you're interested in acquiring the Torture Wheel/Uncertainty Principle split. I guess that's pretty much it... thanks to doom-metal.com in general.

Visit the Torture Wheel bandpage.

Interviewed on 2003-11-15 by Oliver.
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